Archive for November, 2012

Preface
I will be mostly referring to idolatry as it’s condemned in the second commandment. I know some would say the ten commandments are no longer binding on Christians, whilst some would say they are, still others would say that they are not binding but still represent God’s moral will. However, this shouldn’t stop the relevancy of the discussion of what idolatry is. If we take the stance the ten commandments aren’t for us today at all, idolatry is still condemned in the New Testament, unlike, say, Sabbath breaking which is not clearly condemned for NT  believers. Thus, regardless of one’s stance on the revelence of the OT law on believers today, what follows should still stand. Certainly the concept of idolatry as used in the New Testament should be seen as having roots and how it’s defined in the old, just as others day.

 

The second commandment reads like this.

Exodus 20:4″You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Our brothers and sisters in the Catholic and Lutheran churches combine the 1st and 2nd commandments to make them simply one commandment. That is, Have no other Gods before me and make no idols. Thus, in those traditions, as long as one is not making them to worship another God, graven images are okay.
But the natural reading is that they are two separate commands, and that the second commandment, no idols, is not simply giving detail to the first, no other God’s before me. Thus, it is not only wrong to create an image of another being to worship, it would be wrong to create an image of the true God and worship that.

This is more relevant then we realize, and would make sense if we think about it. In the story of the Golden calf, when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai to find the Israelites commiting such an abomination, he was appalled. But the feast was, at least by Aarons declaration, a feast to the true God. So why would the God be mad if they were worshiping Him? Well, do you see anything wrong and having a day of worshiping God, and what you are calling God is a statue of a dumb animal?

Idolatry is terribly wrong, because God is real. It is wrong to image God as you want him, be it in art form, or in your own head, and worship that. God is God, and we all try to adjust our idea of him to fit what we want him to be, and interact more with our idea of God then with God himself. We say we worship the true God of the bible, but we want to make him manageable, understandable, and so we make an image of Him. This seems most prevalent in Dt. 4 15-18 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth

The reason given for not making any image is connected to the fact that they saw no form.  This distinction of our God, that, though indeed his works in our world may certainly be representing by us in ways, he must not be, gives respect to him as a real being, beyond anyone’s imagination and deserving never to be so minimalized into an image, be it of a man or a beast. Likewise, the sin of the Northern kingdom was not only their constant worship of other gods, though that was true, it was also the two golden calves Jeroboam had set up.
Idolatry is not simply the worship of another god. Idolatry is imaging God in some way. By representing him according to your own fancy instead of letting him remain who he is. We do harm to people’s spiritual lives when we tell them it is only worshiping another God that is wrong, it is wrong to worship the True God as an idea, a symbol. He is a reality. And when we begin to worship only our idea of God, well, it becomes very easy to worship him, doesn’t it? Because then he’s exactly the kind of God we want, but we must not be like that.
When we worship God as he is not we commit idolatry. When we wish God was other then he was, we commit idolatry. That is why “Covetousness is idolatry.” Covetousness is not idolatry because it makes a God out of what you covet. That would not be a breaking of the 2nd commandment, as idolatry is, but of the 1st. It is breaking the 2nd commandment because when I desire that God had made me different, or had placed me better in society, or had allowed me to have whatever it is my neighbor has in terms of talents, relationships, or experiences, I am saying I wish God was other then he is. This is greatly dangerous. To Covet is to long for God to be your idea of what he should be, and refuse to delight in the real one. But there is only the real one, and only in delighting in him, can we have worship and joy.
So should we use images in worship? I’m not saying the commandment covers that. But it certainly covers images of God. We have a real God who is so beyond comprehension, any imaging of him we do brings him down to the level of our ideas. And this must be avoided. God has never shown us his form. Do not give him a form just to make it easier on yourself, to make God more tangible and manageable. He cannot be managed. He cannot be mastered. He can only be known by who he is, and not by what we think he is. May we not image him and so keep ourselves from knowing him.